We rate the Germans more highly than they rate us

Peter KellnerPresident
March 15, 2012, 9:02 AM GMT+0

British people generally have a higher regard for the Germans than the Germans have of the British; but people in both countries admire Sweden most of all.

We have held a poll for adults in both Britain and Germany for the annual Anglo-German Koenigswinter conference, which meets this year from March 15-17 in Oxford. First we offered a list of eight countries and asked them which they admired most. (People were not offered their own country: Germany appeared on the list put to Britons, while the UK appeared on the list for German respondents.)

  • British voters placed Sweden first, with 31%, followed by Germany (24%) and the United States (18%). Each age group gave the same top three, in the same order.
  • One sign of the times, and of an historic British antipathy, is that twice as many people said China (11%) as France (6%) German voters also placed Sweden top, with 42%, way ahead of China (18%) and the US (17%) Britain came sixth, on 10%, behind France (15%) and Brazil (12%).
  • Only India and Russia scored lower. This time there was a clear age divide, with only 7% of Germans over 40 admiring Britain most, compared with 16% of under 40s

We then gave respondents in both countries a list of attributes – five positive and five negative – and asked them to pick the three or four that applied most, both to their own country and to the other. Here there were broad areas of agreement. On both countries, most people tend to think of the Germans as hard-working, while substantial minorities consider them arrogant and without a sense of humour.

There is also a wide sense in both countries that Britons are divided by social class and are too frequently drunk. Overall, there is Anglo-German agreement that the Germans have more positive attributes than the British, while the British have more negative attributes.

So much for two-country agreement. The differences in outlook are also noteworthy.

  • Only 8% of Britons reckon Germany lives in the past – but as many as 32% of Germans apply that criticism to themselves.
  • As for having a sense of humour, just 8% of Britons think their fellow citizens lack this trait, while 22% of Germans think the Brits don’t have it

To be fair, Germans are pretty self-critical on this front: even more of them think the stereotype of living without the humour gene applies to their fellow citizens.

To some extent, exposure to each other’s country makes a difference. Roughly half of the people in each country have visited the other, and first-hand experience prompts more Britons and Germans to say folk in the other are friendly.

We also asked people in both countries how they rated politicians, banks, schools and hospitals – in their own country and in each other's. Home-country politicians score badly in both Britain and Germany; their views are less clear-cut about each other’s politicians.

As for banks, Britons have an extremely low opinion of their own. In contrast Germans’ views of their own banks, while falling some way short of enthusiasm, are far less hostile.

Britons view their schools and hospitals much more favourably than they view banks – but regard German schools and hospitals even more highly. Britons who have visited Germany are especially impressed with their public services. And Germans agree that their own schools and hospitals are better than ours.

Finally we looked at what role people thought each country should play, in Europe and the wider world. Both Britons and Germans are divided about whether their own country "should be prepared to do more, spend more and work more closely with other countries" to tackle Europe’s problems – but big majorities think the other should do more!

There is greater consensus about whether the two countries should play a larger role on the world stage, tackling problems beyond Europe. It’s not a popular cause: by large margins, both Britons and Germans think their own country should concentrate on their own domestic problems – and incline to the view that the other country should also abandon efforts to use its financial, military and diplomatic power beyond Europe. These views are held more firmly by older voters in both countries; but even among the under 25s, more prefer their own government to stick to tackling domestic problems.

See the full results and details of the poll here